The Emperor’s New Toys
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
With Great Pacific War: Co-Prosperity Sphere, I wanted to give players an opportunity to play with a Japanese Empire that could stand up to the United States. Winning because you got crushed one turn later than the Emperor’s general and admirals managed just isn’t all that satisfying. And it also leads to one of the more frustrating phenomena in actual wargame play: the winner always quits.
It goes like this. So there I was, playing France in an out-of-print strategic Napoleonic game, one that took months of weekly sessions to conclude. It’s a game lacking somewhat in its history; knowing France’s military potential and having no limits on their alliances, generally most of the other players will gang up on France and defeat her in “the first war.” The French counter to that is to immediately surrender. I chose to fight. With my Turkish ally Paul Davis, one by one we crushed the combined armies of Europe and in a climactic battle outside Paris Napoleon wiped out the Spanish, British, Russian and Prussian field armies to the last man. It was glorious. It was time to conquer Europe.
And then everyone quit. They’d had their fun kicking Napoleon around, and now that it was payback time, they wanted to play Third Reich instead.
Great Pacific War sometimes suffers from the same problem: the Japanese player runs wild, as Isoroku Yamamoto foretold, for the first six months or so (usually a little longer than the admiral predicted). And then the massive American economic advantage is translated into military power, and the United States (with her allies) absolutely kicks the crap out of the Empire leaving nothing but radioactive rubble behind.
Only the manliest/womanliest Japanese players stick around for that. Mostly they gobble up the Pacific colonies of the Western powers and as soon as they’re thwarted by a Midway-style defeat, they quit “since the game’s over anyway.”
With Co-Prosperity Sphere, I wanted to craft a more-or-less believable background for a Japan able to fight the United States on even terms, and then supply the improved Imperial forces for a titanic conflict in the Pacific.
The background fits into our Long War setting, that we’ve used for Second World War at Sea: Plan Z and will extend to some Pacific theater naval action down the road. Everything has gone right for the Empire over a period of 50 years, resulting in its direct or indirect domination of much of East Asia. And then in 1943 comes war with the United States.
You can read more about the setting here.
This larger, richer, more populous Empire also has larger and better-equipped armed forces. Here’s a look at some of them.
Army Ground Forces
Our new and improved Japanese Empire has all of the oil it needs from Manchuria and Shandong. That has allowed the Imperial Army to equip its forces liberally with motorized transport. That improves the front-line Japanese infantry to values of 3•4 (combat•movement), just like the Americans.
In Great Pacific War Japan fields one weak armored corps, which is just within the bounds of the Empire’s actual capability (one was organized late in the war, but its divisions never fought together). We’ve added four better (and way better-looking) ones in Co-Prosperity Sphere, along with division pieces you can substitute for them (this is useful when invading islands). The new and improved Japan is much more of a motorized society, and armored forces fit that profile (the Japanese wanted tanks in the history we know, they simply lacked the means to manufacture or purchase very many of them).
This gives Japan a far greater capacity for land warfare than she has in the standard Great Pacific War scenarios, though she has less need for it – China is a thoroughly-controlled puppet state, while the Soviets have been defeated and driven back deep into Eastern Siberia. There’s still plenty of wide-open space in India and Australia, if the tanks can get there.
And for those wide-open spaces there’s also a Japanese cavalry unit – with Manchuria now a formal part of the Empire rather than a puppet state, her armed forces have been incorporated into the Imperial Japanese Army. Japan did operate cavalry in brigade-sized formations, but never in the corps that are (sort of) the standard units of Great Pacific War.
Japan has two Marine (technically, Special Naval Landing Force) divisions in Great Pacific War, which probably stretches their actual capability a little. We’ve added a new corps, just as strong as those of the Americans, and two matching divisions into which it can separate. And the Japanese also get an additional airborne division.
All of that additional offensive capability – and it is a great deal of offensive capability – is pretty useless if it can’t get to where it needs to be. So the Imperial Japanese Navy has also benefitted from Japan’s economic success.
That means more battleships and cruisers (two more 9-factor surface fleets, plus the attendant breakdown pieces that go with them), two more 4-factor aircraft carriers (plus breakdowns) and possibly most important of all, two more landing craft.
Those extra landing craft – and the special rules that allow the Japanese to keep more landing craft in play than is allowed in standard Great Pacific War scenarios – are of enormous importance in Co-Prosperity Sphere. The Japanese have mobility, and they can mount amphibious offensives in more than one direction.
Given greater economic resources, it’s no great stretch to extrapolate that Japan would have invested more heavily in aircraft. Japanese aircraft designers and manufacturers produced world-class airplanes with limited resources; with more fuel and cash, they likely could have done even more. Or at least they could have made a lot more of the same airplanes.
In Great Pacific War the standard of air power is the 5•4 TAC (“tactical”) air unit. You can break it down into smaller packets in the course of play. Japan has three of them in the standard Great Pacific War (not always all in play, depending on the scenario). By contrast, the Americans have six of them and the Brits bring two more to the party.
In Co-Prosperity Sphere the Japanese add two more (plus the appropriate “small change” pieces to go with them). That means the Americans still have an edge in the air – even with the postulated changes to the Empire, the United States remains a very rich country – just not nearly as much of one. And with the Japanese in the middle and the Americans trying to force their way in from the periphery, it’s going to be harder for the Allies to concentrate that air power than it is for the Japanese.
There are two flavors of air power in Great Pacific War: the other is strategic and its currency is the 5•8 SAC piece. Japan has one of these in Great Pacific War; the United States has four plus three more long-range 5•12 SAC pieces (these would be the B-29 fleets that devastated Japan).
The Japanese pick up two more in Co-Prosperity Sphere, which doesn’t redress the imbalance but these planes are not nearly as useful to the Japanese as they are to the Americans – there just aren’t as many strategic targets to be bombed by the Japanese (but there are plenty to be defended by the Japanese). The secret for the Japanese player here is to keep the Americans from getting those bombers within range of the Home Islands. That’s also true in standard Gteayt Pacific War play, but now there’s an actual chance of doing that.
And those are the added toys for the Japanese. Hopefully, these and the new situation will keep both players in the game a lot longer. Next time we’ll look at the other new toys in the set.
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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.